Background History of Crystal Cove State Park and the Resort Contract

by Jeannette Merrilees

Twenty years have passed since Irvine Company land was purchased with public funds in the l970's, an era of rapid development and disappearing coastline, in a State effort to preserve and protect this outstanding, unique place for future generations of Californians. In its negotiations with the Irvine Company, the State Parks Departmtent insisted that the cottage area must be included along with the 3.25 miles of coastline and inland portions.  At $33 million, it was then the most expensive park in California history.

The purchase was given the California Parks Commission's highest category (Park), named for its historic cove, and became Crystal Cove State Park .  The area of 1930's-vintage beach cottages known historically as "Crystal Cove"  was listed on the National Register (1980) as Crystal Cove Historic District.

The State Parks Department next undertook an exemplary public process to produce a General Plan for the park and a "Public Use Plan" for the Historic District.  They were approved by the State Parks Commission and California Coastal Commission in 1982.  The Public Use Plan called for infrastructure by the State, phased rehabilitation of the cottages, and their adaptation for group, hostel, and family use.

Starting in 1978 when a State Parks Department director proposed that the Department support itself by charging user fees to park visitors, both the state administration and legislature favored increasing user fees and reducing the Parks Department share of General Funds in the state budget.  Major reorganization followed, with cutting of staff and maintenance, creating a $20 million shortfall which persisted until Gov. Wilson's budget surplus was applied (along with his 1997 tax break) with a promise that the state parks would soon become self sufficient.  The Parks Department began a search for revenue-producing privatization opportunities within the system.

Some public funding was made available in 1991, but was never utilized. Implementation of the publicly-approved General Plan was shelved when cottage tenants were granted long term leases and a recession economy brought deep budget cuts to the Parks Department.  The public waited, anticipating park infrastructure and rehabilitated cottages per the 1982 Plans for all Californians.

In 1995, the State issued a Request For Proposals to implement the 1982 plans.  The public expected that proposals would accomplish basic rental management of the cottages.  Two valid responses were received--from a resort partnership and a historic preservation firm.  The resort partnership was selected and negotiations began.  In July 1996, special legislation titled "Crystal Cove"* was inserted in the 1996 budget bill authorizing the State Parks Department to contract with the resort group for an unprecedented 60 year occupation of the entire Historic District to the mean high tide line for development, maintenance, and operation of the District "as a public facility".

*  California Public Resources Code Section 5080.27 "Crystal Cove"

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